The<sup> Quebec Winter Carnival, billed as the world's biggest winter celebration, started on 1 February and the snowy fun finishes on Sunday, 17 February. The origins of the winter celebration go back to the latter half of the 19th century, when the erstwhile French colony organised extravagant parties to mark the coming of the season of Lent... much as Brazil rocked to the Rio Carnival 2013 and New Orleans to Mardi Gras 2013.

A note on the event's official Web site reads: Since the beginning of our French colony, the habitants of New France created a rowdy tradition of getting together just before Lent to eat, drink and be merry. The custom of celebrating from the end of January until mid-February has long been popular. In 1954, in the context of the economic development of the Old Capital, a group of business people re-launched the festivities. That year, Bonhomme was born and elected the event's representative. The first official edition of the Québec Winter Carnival took place in 1955."

The<sup> Quebec Winter Carnival features a fun-filled range of events, from dog sled races and outdoor banquets to dance parties in an ice palace, parades and snow sculptures. Be sure you come warmly bundled up though, the mercury drops to a freezing -15C and below during the Carnival!

The two most popular activities are the snow bath (where hundreds of people strip to bathing suits and roll around in the snow) and the St Lawrence river canoe race; incidentally, the Carnival doesn't call off the race if the river is frozen over... contestants must drag their canoes across the ice!

Check out a video of the St Lawrence river canoe race this year... across a mixture of ice and water

[Video Courtesy: YouTube/RickMercerReport]

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially launched this year's celebrations, with Bonhomme Carnaval, the official mascot. Also present were Steven Blaney (Minister of Veterans Affairs) and Régis Labeaume, the Mayor of Quebec City.

"The Quebec Winter Carnival has been a landmark celebration for many years, showcasing the rich heritage and beauty of Quebec City in the winter time," Harper said, "I am pleased to be here on the opening day of this spectacular event. On behalf of the Government of Canada, I want to thank the organizers for putting on such a wonderful celebration, and I wish everyone a great Carnival."

Also check out stunning photographs from the Quebec Winter Carnival...